A recent – if brief – snowflurry in our village brought thoughts of Christmas to the fore.  Not practical thoughts of course; the turkey remains unordered, the cake unbaked, and the annual pre-festive season plan to lose 6 pounds in readiness for vast amounts of eating has not even crossed my mind.  Okay, it crossed it, but was quickly relegated to the dusty mental file marked ‘mañana’. No, it’s thoughts of décor and gift-giving that are proving deliciously distracting, and so I’ve embarked – very slowly – on the construction of handmade Christmas Crackers for everyone who’ll be around the table for Christmas Day lunch.

I hadn’t appreciated what a peculiarly British tradition crackers are; originating in the 19th Century and traditionally filled with French bonbons (there! Don’t say you never learn anything from me…), they are now a great British institution without which no Christmas table would be complete.  Come December 25th, families up and down the country will be bedecked in dreadful tissue-paper hats, sharing cheesy festive jokes and examining the tiny plastic gifts contained within, as the smell of gunpowder from the cracker snap threatens to overpower the turkey.

This year for the first time I wanted to make my own crackers and avoid the mass-produced, expensive ones.  I used Kate Lilley’s beautifully simple template  and instructions, and blew it up to 150% before printing onto white heavyweight watercolour paper, to create my understated and slightly ethereal oversized crackers, to which I then added strips of gift wrap, monograms and ribbon, tied with festive polka-dot bells.

I wanted mine to be big enough to house a small but carefully chosen gift, so this year my recipients might get a French milled soap, a LEGO city mini man set, or a bicycle inner tube (I know, I know… families, eh?).  No cracker would be complete without a seriously bad joke, so I’ve trawled the internet for the very best I could find and added those too, along with some festive confetti.

The most important element is the cracker snap, because Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without someone suffering heart palpitations at the sudden loud bangs caused by cracker-pulling. Cracker snaps are notoriously hard to come by, so as well as sourcing my own, I’ve gathered a small stash of sets of snaps to giveaway if you fancy making some of these yourself; details at the end of the post.

Given the need for clean fingers and craft knives, I’ve obviously made these ones without assistance from my mini-helper, but Harry and I will also be making more of these easy crackers together (below) as gifts for his friends and nursery teachers.  Using toilet rolls and glittery crepe paper (and snaps, of course!), they are simplicity itself, and look pretty and festive, especially when filled with chocolates and candy canes – and sparkly nail polish for the teachers.  It means saving up an awful lot of toilet rolls, but I have a toddler who is still thrilled to have graduated through potty-training and to have discovered the flush toilet, and so have time – and approximately 1,000 bathroom visits – on my side.

So; Christmas Crackers two-ways, depending on your staying power and inclination; a lovely DIY project to contemplate at this point before the mad rush takes over and you declare yourself insane for even contemplating frivolities such as this.  As well as accessorising the Christmas table, they also make beautiful boxes for important small gifts.  Like jewellery  (she said, hoping her husband is reading..).

If you fancy making crackers yourself, I have 10 sets of 10 cracker snaps to give away; just leave a comment below along the lines of ‘yes PLEASE!’ to throw your name into the virtual hat and I’ll get Harry to pick at random and be in touch re your details; the near weightlessness of the snaps means I can send them around the world without having to send Harry out to earn a living just yet.

I should reassure regular readers that these last couple of posts don’t signify my whipping myself up into a full-tilt Christmas frenzy in the middle of November; rather, I am distracting myself from the thing I should really be focusing on; Harry’s birthday is in two weeks and he has indicated that what would make him happiest in the WHOLE WORLD would be a giant home-made birthday cake, shaped like a pirate ship.  With real pirates.  And a parrot.  And a canon.  And… well, you get the picture.  Yikes.  Watch this space…

Black & white image credit: Imperial War Museum, London.